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Why Is Russia Telling People Not to Drink If They Take the Sputnik COVID-19 Vaccine?

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The holidays are in full swing and, for many people all over the world, that means it’s time to drink up.

But that won’t be the case for many Russians, at least for those who have received the country’s controversial Sputnik V vaccine. Earlier this month, health officials warned citizens to avoid alcohol for two months after receiving the drug. That’s bad news for a country that’s known for its heavy drinking.

An Ominous Warning in Russia Just Before the Holidays

On December 9th, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said in a televised interview that those receiving the vaccine should observe special safety precautions during the 42 days it takes for the Sputnik V vaccine to become effective.

“[Russians] will have to refrain from visiting crowded places, wear face masks, use sanitizers, minimize contacts and refrain from drinking alcohol or taking immunosuppressant drugs,” Golikova told the country’s TASS News Agency.

Anna Popova, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, a Russian government organization that’s designed to protect consumers, added to these warnings when she spoke on a local radio station, Radio Komsomolskaya Pravda, which was then reported in The Moscow Times.

“It’s a strain on the body. If we want to stay healthy and have a strong immune response, don’t drink alcohol,” Popova said.

Health authorities in Russia estimate that over 100,000 people have already had the vaccine.

Asking people not to drink for 42 days can be a hard sell in a country like Russia, which ranks as the fourth-largest consumer of alcohol per person in the world. The average citizen consumes 15.1 liters, equal to nearly 4 gallons, of alcohol per year, according to the World Health Organization.

Elena Kriven, a Moscow resident, wasn’t thrilled when she heard the news. “This really bothers me. I’m likely to not be able to drink for 80 days and I reckon the stress on the body of giving up alcohol, especially during what is a festive period, would be worse than the (side effects of the) vaccine and its alleged benefits.” she said.

But Why?

According to the National Institute of Health, there is a strong relationship between excessive drinking and immune-related health effects, such as increasing a person’s susceptibility to pneumonia. It is also linked to a greater likelihood of acute respiratory distress syndromes (ARDS).

Alcohol limits the body’s ability to fight off new infections, including the coronavirus.

It seems health authorities in Russia are trying to keep people as healthy as possible as they roll out what could be a less-than-effective vaccine. 

Mistrust on Top of Mistrust

Russia is already having a difficult time convincing residents to take the vaccine. Studies show around 59% of Russians say they have no interest in taking the drug. President Vladimir Putin has also refused to take it, despite supervising its rollout to the general population.

While authorities in the country say the Sputnik V vaccine is around 90% effective, little is still known about the drug. Many western countries have criticized the country for approving a vaccine so fast, while Russia has released scant information regarding the safety of it.

“We hope the vaccine is effective, but it’s difficult to trust some of the figures,” argues Svetlana Zavidova, whose organization monitors clinical trials in Russia. She’s also concerned that the vaccine developers injected themselves with the drug.

There have also been reports of medical workers in the country coming down with COVID-19 after taking the drug.

“We don’t see the point of such a rush, other than announcing how we beat the rest of the world,” Zavidova says. “I think there’s a struggle between scientists and politicians, and the latter are winning.”

The country is also having trouble distributing the drug. Unlike the vaccines being distributed in the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe, the Sputnik vaccine consists of two completely different injections, which only puts more pressure on the situation.

Dmitry Morozov, who runs a biotech company in Russia, says:

“They basically doubled the work for us. It’s like you need to make two cars to actually move forward, but they’re both completely different: a Jeep and a mini bus. That’s a serious challenge. It means we have a far tougher task than most other manufacturers.”

It’s always a good idea to cut back on drinking, especially in the age of COVID-19. Luckily, here in the U.S., we don’t have to worry about giving up booze entirely this holiday season. The vaccines being distributed in this country don’t have the same health concerns as the one produced in Russia. Health officials in this country would rather have you stay at home and wear a mask when going outside than give up alcohol for two months straight.

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